Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Religious Liberty of VCII

The Declaration of Religious Liberty

The traditionalists have a difficult time with VCII’s teaching on religious liberty because they feel that non-Catholics do not have the right to promote their religion or creed publicly as was often the case in the past centuries under numerous Catholic monarchs. The traditionalists, as well as many past Popes, believe that only the truth (Catholic) has the right to be promoted publicly. It is interesting to note that an important American theologian, Father John Courtney Murry, was silenced by the Vatican (Cardinal Ottaviani) to write or speak publicly on this issue during the 50's because there was the strong tendency in the Church to believe that only the truth, that is the Catholic Church, has the right to be promoted publicly; the other Churches or groups must remain in the closet. Father Murry, with his American experience of a multi cultured and multi religious country, later was invited to VCII as an “expert” where he contributed in an important way to the document Dignitatis Humanae (Dec. 7, 1965). An important theologian once wrote: "The truth without charity is an idol."
VCII instead said that every person or group has the right to promote his or her or their belief publicly due to the human dignity of each person as long as one does not interfere with the rights of others, i.e., public peace, public order and public morality (DH 7); this is the principle of promoting religion or the faith on the basis of the dignity of each person. This was a change in DISCIPLINE of how religion is promoted; it was NOT A CHANGE IN FAITH OR MORALS. Thus according to this principle, with VCII (Dignitatis Humanae, the "Declaration of Religious Liberty”), the Church could declare to the modern totalitarian and various repressive regimes to allow the Catholic Church and all religions to promote their creeds publicly and freely in their country citing human dignity (and basic charity!) as a basis and justification. The main thrust of the decree (DH) is the affirmation of a divine right, that the Church claims freedom for herself in human society and before every public authority (DH 13).

The following are a few questions and answers related to the Church’s teaching on Religious Liberty: "Dignitatis Humanae".

1) C.S. Lewis wrote: "To make Christianity a private affair while banishing all privacy is to relegate it to the rainbow's end or the Greek calends. That is one of the enemy's strategies." In light of the Declaration of Religious Liberty, how would you reply in less than 100 words?

If Christianity is declared a private affair as if to imply each person or even small group (a family etc.) is free to practice Christianity but privately, and yet all privacy is banished, then one is not free to practice Christianity as he sees fit because the banishment of privacy implies the existence of a governing power (the state) by which the very fact of banishing privacy, thus governs and controls what is done in private.[1] Thus, since Christianity is made only a private affair and thus is not allowed to function publicly[2] (worship, profession, propagation, etc), Christianity is no longer free or perhaps, in the extreme case, not even allowed to exist since privacy is banished and thus, in effect, Christianity is banished. Thus, just as one seems to see the end of a rainbow from a distance (Christianity at least existing as a "private affair"), one can never find the "pot of gold" as one approaches the end of the rainbow which seems to keep moving or even disappear (Christianity is not free both publicly and privately and thus is not effectively existing in practice).
This can be compared to various totalitarian (anti-Christian) governments[3] in which no such laws protecting right of privacy exist, leaving the practice of Christianity, even in private, at the disposal and control of the state.[4]

2) It is commonly said in America that a citizen has the right to be wrong. Please comment.

One can approach this question from the point of view of the subject or group declaring for themselves the right to be wrong or from the point of view of the object of the other person or group being allowed the right to be wrong.

Regarding the first point of view or distinction, no one has the right to be wrong according to Catholic theology although one is entitled to immunity from unjust coercion.[5] In the USA, this first point of view has often come about by rationalizing from the premise of a mentality of separation of church and state[6] to a false freedom of conscience with no obligation of forming a well formed conscience.[7] This is a faulty rationalization, in the name of religious freedom, of making the unformed or conveniently formed conscience the ultimate norm. But the individual human conscience is never the ultimate norm. Our American mentality of "I have a right to my body" or "I have a right of free choice" etc., all in the name of freedom in a secularized society more or less divorced from God's rule, has led to this rather wide spread mentality, even in the Church, of following one's own autonomous conscience independent and free of any higher rule or norm over the individual.[8]

From the second point of view, since one should be entitled to the immunity from unjust coercion (as is basically the case in the USA[9]), one has the right to profess and promote his or her religion both publicly and privately (without violating public peace, public order and public morality - DH 7) even if judged to be wrong by others. Thus, one does not have the right to be in error and wrong or to be negligent in forming well his conscience, but if wrong, one should enjoy the immunity from unjust coercion both individually and as a corporate body.[10]

3) What are some of the consequences when a government identifies the state with society, i.e., makes them co-terminus?

The identifying the state with society by a government often results in serious infringements on religious liberty if not total dictatorship and state control.

The form of these infringements can and have varied over the centuries and in various nations. The middle ages saw a close liaison between the Church and the Catholic nation with the Church, as the great society, enclosing the nation, and the king being anointed by the Church. The prince was to take care of religion and of the people in a unified cooperation. But there was always tension and the Church suffered as the arm of the state.

But the rise of the secular state, especially after the French revolution, often maintained this identity of state and society resulting in the exclusion of the Church from society (and into the sacristy) as well as the appropriation of all Church property.[11]

What was needed, as brought forth by Leo XIII[12] and others was the affirmation of the freedom of society, of the people at least in the form of groups and unions.[13] Thus the state is a secular arm; the Church is a spiritual arm. Society is secular (material welfare and happiness) and distinct from the Church (spiritual and final happiness) in origin and purpose.[14]

John XXIII in "Pacem et Terris" was careful to define secularism as the exclusion of God from society and the public while secularization being defined as the legitimate autonomy of the state. But he did declare that the state must protect and foster the free exercise of religion. Both the church and the state (GS 74, DH 11) receive their authority from God but both are distinct with different spheres of jurisdiction and both must be constrained within their prospective and proper spheres of jurisdiction else we return to the serious problems created by the identity of church and state.

Joseph Dwight

(Click on the photo of Joseph Dwight to go to his other websites.)

[1] In practice, this banishment of privacy, and thus Christianity is also effectively accomplished in supposed non-totalitarian nations imbued with secularism which gives no place for God in public and even in private. Separation of church and state in such nations is really separation of religion and state. If a group cannot worship, profess, educate the children (DH 5) and propagate its religion in public, it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, for this group to survive even if supposedly given freedom in private.
[2] This alone is a violation of religious liberty as set forth by Dignitatis Humanae (No's 4,5 etc.). But to dangle an imaginary carrot in front of Christians as if one can practice freely at least in private their religion and yet not offer any legal protection (as a nation must - DH 15) for this implicit promise is hypocritical and outright deceptive, in fact "deplorable" (DH 15).
This deceptive or imaginary carrot was directly alluded to in DH 15: "But there are forms of government under which, despite constitutional recognition of the freedom of religious worship, the public authorities themselves strive to deter the citizens from professing their religion and make life particularly difficult and dangerous for religious bodies."
This is against the very dignity of man created uniquely in God's image and likeness (DH 1, 11).
[3] This is similar in general to Russia or even Mexico, and so many other despotic regimes of the present and past.
[4] "Religious communities also have the right not to be hindered by legislation or administrative action on the part of the civil authority in the selection, training, appointment and transfer of their own ministers, in communicating with religious authorities and communities in other parts of the world, in erecting buildings for religious purposes, and in the acquisition and use of the property they need" (DH 4).
"... it is wrong for a public authority to compel its citizens by force or fear or any other means to profess or repudiate any religion or to prevent anyone from joining or leaving a religious body" (DH 6).
[5] DH 3, 4, etc.
[6] This separation of church and state has often become in practice and in widespread attitude a separation of religion and state such as with Garibaldi in Italy, and so many other countries including the USA in varying degrees.
[7] This situation could be compared to a nurse in a hospital who must give an injection of penicillin to a patient but is not sure which bottle contains the penicillin due to poor marking. So she picks one at random among the several bottles without diligently seeking to discover (inform herself of the truth) which is which, since after all she feels she is of good will and does not mean to hurt anyone.
This type of self proclaimed autonomy, even over God and His "one true Church" (DH 1, against indifferentism) is very widespread today all over the world and the USA. We see clear examples of this in past public statements of the governor of NY or a Catholic sister in Michigan regarding abortion.
"All men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and his Church, and to embrace it and hold on to it as they come to know it" (DH 1 - against subjectivism).
[8] Pope John Paul II (among many other occasions) spoke firmly against this "pick and choose smorgasbord type Catholicism" in LA in his September 1987 visit: "It is sometimes reported that a large number of Catholics today do not adhere to the teaching of the Church on a number of questions, notably sexual and conjugal morality, divorce and remarriage. Some are reported as not accepting the Church's clear position on abortion. It has also been noted that there is a tendency on the part of some Catholics to be selective in their adherence to the Church's moral teachings. It is sometimes claimed that dissent from the Magisterium is totally compatible with being a" good Catholic" and poses no obstacle to the reception of the sacraments. This is a grave error that challenges the teaching office of the bishops of the United States and elsewhere. I wish to encourage you in the love of Christ to address this situation courageously in your pastoral ministry, relying on the power of God's truth to attract assent and on the grace of the Holy Spirit which is given both to those who proclaim the message and to those to whom it is addressed"; taken from the address of Pope John Paul II to the bishops of the United States in Los Angeles on September 16, 1987.
[9] This freedom of religion though as set forth by Dignitatis Humanae (5) is obviously violated in the USA in regards to education since unjust and extra burdens are put on those who wish to educate their children in private schools.
[10] In these situations one must take as his model Sacred Scripture passages such as the "Parable of the Weeds" (MT 13:30, 40-42; DH 11).
One could also discuss here conscientious objection which was upheld by the Supreme Court of the USA.
The Church also defends conscientious objection: "In the same spirit we cannot but express our admiration for all who forgo the use of violence to vindicate their rights and resort to those other means of defense which are available to weaker parties, provided it can be done without harm to the rights and duties of others and of the community" (GS 78; see also GS 79).
[11] Other examples would include Mexico's confiscation of all Church property (at least legally) in 1917, denying public profession, corporate freedom, private schools and choice of the parents regarding educating their children; the Pope being a prisoner in the Vatican under Garibaldi; Islamic nations which force Arabs into Islam and do not extend religious liberty to other religions; in Spain religious freedom, especially in public, was denied to non-Catholic religious; in Russia the Catholic Church really is not allowed to exist even though "freedom of religion and atheism" is on the law books.
[12] Leo XIII made the dichotomy of the legitimate role of the Church and the state with something of a separation, quoting Pope Gelasius I, "two distinct powers".
[13] Besides constitutional protection demanded by the Church (DH 6, 15), governments at all levels of authority should follow the Church principle of subsidiarity, i.e., a larger group should not do what a smaller group can do.
A specific example of this could be cited with respect to education. Education is not mentioned in the US constitution since it belongs closer to the people; education is important and personal.
[14] The basic difference between the state and society was well described by Cardinal John Newman: "When we speak of nation (society), we take into account its variety of local right, interests, attachments, customs, opinions, the character of its people and the history of their characters formation."
"On the other hand, when we speak of the state, we imply the notion of order, ranks and powers, of the legislature and executive departments and the like" (Sermon 16, Parochial and Plain Sermons).

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